He was surviving nicely, tucked away in a lovely city where no one knew his real name. No one recognized his face. No one cared. The Bolognesi went about their lives without disturbing others.
Not even he recognized himself. Each morning when he finished shaving and put on his glasses and his brown corduroy driver's cap, he stood at the mirror and said hello to Marco. Long gone were the fleshy jowls and puffy dark eyes, the thicker, longer hair. Long gone was the smirk and the arrogance. Now he was just another quiet man on the street.
Marco was living one day at a time, and the days were piling up. No one who read the Times story knew where Marco was or what he was doing.
He passed a man in a dark suit and instantly knew he was in trouble. The suit was out of place. It was a foreign variety, something bought off the rack in a low-end store, one he'd seen every day in another life. The white shirt was the same monotonous button-down he'd seen for thirty years in D.C. He'd once considered floating an office memo banning blue-and-white cotton button-downs, but Carl Pratt had talked him out of it.
He couldn't tell the color of the tie.
It was not the type of suit you'd ever see under the porticoes along Via Fondazza before dawn, or at any other time for that matter. He took a few steps, glanced over his shoulder, and saw that the suit was now following him. White guy, thirty years old, thick, athletic, the clear winner in a footrace or a fistfight. So Marco used another strategy. He suddenly stopped, turned around, and said, "You want something?"
To which someone else said, "Over here, Backman."
Hearing his name stopped him cold. For a second his knees were rubbery, his shoulders sagged, and he told himself that no, he was not dreaming. In a flash he thought of all the horrors the word "Backman" brought with it. How sad to be so terrified of your own name.
There were two of them. The one with the voice arrived on the scene from the other side of Via Fondazza. He had basically the same suit, but with a bold white shirt with no buttons on the collar. He was older, shorter, and much thinner. Mutt and Jeff. Thick 'n' Thin.
"What do you want?" Marco said.
They were slowly reaching for their pockets. "We're with the FBI," the thick one said. American English, probably Midwest.
"Sure you are," Marco said.
They went through the required ritual of flashing their badges, but under the darkness of the portico Marco could read nothing. The dim light over an apartment door helped a little. "I can't read those," he said.
"Let's take a walk," said the thin one. Boston, Irish. "Walk" came out "wok."
"You guys lost?" Marco said without moving. He didn't want to move, and his feet were quite heavy anyway.
"We know exactly where we are."
"I doubt that. You got a warrant?'
"We don't need one."
The thick one made the mistake of touching Marco his left elbow, as if he would help him move along to where they wanted to go. Marco jerked away. "Don't touch me! You boys get lost. You can't make an arrest here. All you can do is talk."
"Fine, let's go have a chat," said the thin one.
"I don't have to talk."
"There's a coffee shop a couple of blocks away," said the thick one.
"Great, have some coffee. And a pastry. But leave me alone."
Thick 'n' Thin looked at each other, then glanced around, not sure what to do next, not sure what plan B entailed.
Marco wasn't moving; not that he felt very safe where he was, but he could almost see a dark car waiting around the corner.
Where the hell is Luigi right now? he asked himself. Is this part of his conspiracy?
He'd been discovered, found, unmasked, called by his real name on Via Fondazza. This would certainly mean another move, another safe house.
The thin one decided to take control of the encounter. "Sure, we can meet right here. There are a lot of folks back home who'd like to talk to you."
"Maybe that's why I'm over here."
"We're investigating the pardon you bought."
"Then you're wasting a helluva lot of time and money, which would surprise no one."
"We have some questions about the transaction."
"What a stupid investigation," Marco said, spitting the words down at the thin one. For the first time in many years he felt like the broker again, berating some haughty bureaucrat or dim-witted congressman. "The FBI spends good money sending two clowns like you all the way to Bologna, Italy, to tackle me on a sidewalk so you can ask me questions that no fool in his right mind would answer. You're a couple of dumbasses, you know that? Go back home and tell your boss that he's a dumbass too. And while you're talking to him, tell him he's wasting a lot of time and money if he thinks I paid for a pardon."
"So you deny-"
"I deny nothing. I admit nothing. I say nothing, except that this is the FBI at its absolute worst. You boys are in deep water and you can't swim."
Back home they'd slap him around a little, push him, curse him, swap insults. But on foreign soil they weren't sure how to behave. Their orders were to find him, to see if he did in fact live where the CIA said he was living. And if found, they were supposed to jolt him, scare him, hit him with some questions about wire transfers and offshore accounts.
They had it all mapped out and had rehearsed it many times. But under the porticoes of Via Fondazza, Mr. Lazzeri was annihilating their plans.
"We're not leaving Bologna until we talk," said the thick one.
"Congratulations, you're in for a long vacation."
"We have our orders, Mr. Backman."
"And I've got mine."
"Just a few questions, please," said the thin one.
"Go see my lawyer," Marco said, and began to walk away, in the direction of his apartment.
"Who's your lawyer?"
They weren't moving, weren't following, and Marco picked up his pace. He crossed the street, glanced quickly at his safe house, but didn't slow down. If they wanted to follow, they waited too long. By the time he darted onto Via del Piombo, he knew they could never find him. These were his streets now, his alleys, his darkened doorways to shops that wouldn't open for three more hours.
They found him on Via Fondazza only because they knew his address.
At the southwestern edge of old Bologna, near the Porto San Stefano, he caught a city bus and rode it for half an hour, until he stopped near the train station at the northern perimeter. There he caught another bus and rode into the center of the city. The buses were filling; the early risers were getting to work. A third bus took him across the city again to the Porta Saragozza, where he began the 3.6kilometer hike up to San Luca. At the four-hundredth arch he stopped to catch his breath, and between the columns he looked down and waited for someone to come sneaking up behind him. There was no one back there, as he expected.
He slowed his pace and finished the climb in fifty-five minutes. Behind the Santuario di San Luca he followed the narrow pathway where Francesca had fallen, and finally parked himself on the bench where she had waited. From there, his early-morning view of Bologna was magnificent. He removed his parka to cool off. The sun was up, the air was as light and clear as any he'd ever breathed, and for a long time Marco sat very much alone and watched the city come to life.
He treasured the solitude, and the safety of the moment. Why couldn't he make the climb every morning, and sit high above Bologna with nothing to do but think, and maybe read the newspapers? Perhaps call a friend on the phone and catch up on the gossip?
He'd have to find the friends first.
It was a dream that would not come true.
With Luigi's very limited cell phone he called Ermanno and canceled their morning session. Then he called Luigi and explained that he didn't feel like studying.
"Is something wrong?"
"No. I just need a break."
"That's fine, Marco, but we're paying Ermanno to teach you, okay? You need to study every day."
"Drop it, Luigi. I'm not studying today." 'I don't like this."
"And I don't care. Suspend me. Kick me out of school."
"Are you upset?"
"No, Luigi, I'm fine. It's a beautiful day, springtime in Bologna, and I'm going for a long walk."
"No thanks, Luigi. I don't want company."
"What about lunch?"
Hunger pains shot through Marco's stomach. Lunch with Luigi was always delicious and he always grabbed the check. "Sure."
"Let me think. I'll call you back."
"Sure, Luigi. Ciao."
They met at twelve-thirty at Caffe Atene, an ancient dive in an alley, down a few steps from street level. It was a tiny place, with small square tables practically touching each other. The waiters jostled around with trays of food held high overhead. Chefs yelled from the kitchen. The cramped dining room was smoky, loud, and packed with hungry people who enjoyed talking at full volume as they ate. Luigi explained that the restaurant had been around for centuries, tables were impossible to get, and the food was, of course, superb. He suggested they share a plate of calamari to get things started.
After a morning of arguing with himself up at San Luca, Marco had decided not to tell Luigi about his encounter with the FBI. At least not then, not that morning. He might do it the next day, or the next, but for the moment he was still sorting things out. His principal reason for holding back was that he did not want to pack up and run again, not on Luigi's terms.
If he ran, he would be alone.
He couldn't begin to imagine why the FBI would be in Bologna, evidently without the knowledge of Luigi and whoever he was working for. He was assuming Luigi knew nothing of their presence. He certainly seemed to be much more concerned with the menu and the wine list. Life was good. Everything was normal.
The lights went out. Suddenly, Caffe Atene was completely dark, and in the next instant a waiter with a tray of someone's lunch came crashing across their table, yelling and cursing and spilling himself onto both Luigi and Marco. The legs of the antique table buckled and its edge crashed hard onto Marco's lap. At about the same time, a foot or something hit him hard on the left shoulder. Everyone was yelling. Glass was breaking. Bodies were getting shoved, then from the kitchen someone screamed, "Fire!"
The scramble outside and onto the street was completed without serious injury. The last person out was Marco, who ducked low to avoid the stampede while searching for his navy blue Silvio bag. As always, he had hung its strap over the back of his chair, with the bag resting so close to his body he could usually feel it. It had disappeared in the melee.
The Italians stood in the street and stared in disbelief at the cafe. Their lunch was in there, hah0 eaten and now being ruined. Finally, a thin light puff of smoke emerged and made its way through the door and into the air. A waiter could be seen running by the front tables with a fire extinguisher. Then some more smoke, but not much.
"I lost my bag," Marco said to Luigi as they watched and waited.
"The blue one?"
How many bags do I carry around, Luigi? "Yes, the blue one." He already had suspicions that the bag had been snatched.
A small fire truck with an enormous siren arrived, slid to a stop, and kept wailing as the firemen raced inside. Minutes passed, and the Italians began to drift away. The decisive ones left to find lunch elsewhere while there was still time. The others just kept gawking at this horrible injustice.
The siren was finally neutralized. Evidently the fire was too, and without the need for water being sprayed all over the restaurant. After an hour of discussion and debate and very little firefighting, the situation was under control. "Something in the restroom," a waiter yelled to one of his friends, one of the few remaining weakened and unfed patrons. The lights were back on.
They allowed them back inside to get their coats. Some who'd left in search of other meals were returning to get their things. Luigi became very helpful in the hunt for Marco's bag. He discussed the situation with the headwaiter, and before long half the staff was scouring the restaurant. Among the excited chatter, Marco heard a waiter say something about a "smoke bomb."
The bag was gone, and Marco knew it.
They had a panino and a beer at a sidewalk cafe, under the sun where they could watch pretty girls stroll by. Marco was preoccupied with the theft, but he worked hard to appear unconcerned.
"Sorry about the bag," Luigi said at one point.
"No big deal."
"I'll get you another cell phone."
"What else did you lose?"
"Nothing. Just some maps of the city, some aspirin, a few euros."
In a hotel room a few blocks away, Zellman and Krater had the bag on the bed, its contents neatly arranged. Other than the Ankyo smartphone, there were two maps of Bologna, both well marked and well used but revealing little, four $100 bills, the cell phone Luigi had loaned him, a bottle of aspirin, and the owner's manual for the Ankyo.
Zellman, the more agile computer whiz of the two, plugged the smartphone into an Internet access jack and was soon fiddling with the menu. "This is good stuff," he was saying, quite impressed with Marco his gadget. "The absolute latest toy on the market."
Not surprisingly, he was stopped by the password. They would have to dissect it at Langley. With his laptop, he e-mailed a message to Julia Javier, passing along the serial number and other information.
Within two hours of the theft, a CIA agent was sitting in the parking lot outside Chatter in suburban Alexandria, waiting for the store to open.
From a distance he watched her shuffle along gamely, bravely, with her cane down the sidewalk beside Via Minzoni. He followed and was soon fifty feet away. Today she wore brown suede boots, no doubt for the support. The boots had low heels. Flat shoes would We been more comfortable, but then she was Italian and fashion always took priority. The light brown skirt stopped at her knees. She was wearing a tight wool sweater, bright red in color, and it was the first time he'd seen her when she wasn't bundled up for cold weather. No overcoat to hide her really nice figure.
She was walking cautiously and limping slightly, but with a determination that gave him heart. It was just coffee at Nino's, for an hour or two of Italian. And it was all for him!
And the money.
For a moment he thought about her money. Whatever the dire situation with her poor husband, and her seasonal work as a tour guide, she managed to dress stylishly and live in a beautifully decorated apartment. Giovanni had been a professor. Perhaps he'd saved carefully over the years, and now his illness was straining their budget.
Whatever. Marco had his own problems. He'd just lost $400 in cash and his only lifeline to the outside world. People who weren't sup posed to know his whereabouts now knew his exact address. Nine hours earlier he'd heard his real name used on Via Fondazza.
He slowed and allowed her to enter Nino's, where she was again greeted like a beloved member of the family by Nino's boys. Then he circled the block to give them time to get her situated, to fuss over her, bring her coffee, chat for a moment and catch up on the neighborhood gossip. Ten minutes after she arrived, he walked through the door and got bear-hugged by Nino's youngest son. A friend of Francesca's was a friend for life.
Her moods changed so much that Marco did not know what to expect. He was still touched by the warmth of yesterday, but he knew that the indifference could return today. When she smiled and grabbed his hand and started all the cheek pecking he knew instantly the lesson would be the highlight of a rotten day.
When they were finally alone he asked about her husband. Things had not changed. "It's only a matter of days," she said with stiff lip, as if she'd already accepted death and was ready for the grieving.
He asked about her mother, Signora Altonelli, and got a full report. She was baking a pear torta, one of Giovanni's favorites, just in case he got a whiff of it from the kitchen.
"And how was your day?" she asked.
It would be impossible to fictionalize a worse set of occurrences. From the shock of hearing his real name barked through the darkness, to being the victim of a carefully staged theft, he couldn't imagine a worse day.
'A little excitement during lunch," he said.
"Tell me about it."
He described his hike up to San Luca, to the spot where she fell, her bench, the views, the canceled session with Ermanno, lunch with Luigi, the fire but not the loss of his bag. She had not noticed the absence of it until he told the story.
"There's so little crime in Bologna," she said, half apologetic. "I know Caffe Atene. It's not a place for thieves."
These were probably not Italians, he wanted to say, but managed to nod gravely as if to say: Yes, yes, what's the world coming to?
When the small talk was over, she switched gears like a stern professor and said she was in the mood to tackle some verbs. He said he was not, but his moods were unimportant. She drilled him on the future tense of abitare (to live) and vedere (to see). Then she made him weave both verbs in all tenses into a hundred random sentences. Far from being distracted, she pounced on any wayward accent. A grammatical mistake prompted a quick reprimand, as if he'd just insulted the entire country.
She had spent the day penned up in her apartment, with a dying husband and a busy mother. The lesson was her only chance to release some energy. Marco, however, was exhausted. The stress of the day was taking its toll, but Francesca's high-octane demands took his mind off his fatigue and confusion. One hour passed quickly. They recharged with more coffee, and she launched into the murky and difficult world of the subjunctive-present, imperfect, and past perfect. Finally, he began to founder. She tried to prop him up with reassurances that the subjunctive sinks a lot of students. But he was tired and ready to sink.
He surrendered after two hours, thoroughly drained and in need of another long walk. It took fifteen minutes to say goodbye to Nino's boys. He happily escorted her back to her apartment. They hugged and pecked cheeks and promised to study tomorrow.
If he walked as directly as possible, his apartment was twenty - five minutes away. But he had not walked directly to any place in more than a month.
He began to wander.
At 4:00 p.m., eight of the ktdon were on Via Fondazza, at various points-one drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe, three strolling aimlessly a block apart, one cruising back and forth on a scooter, and one looking out a window from the third floor.
Half a mile away, outside the central city, on the second floor above a flower shop owned by an elderly Jew, the four other members of the kidon were playing cards and waiting nervously. One, Ari, was one of the top English interrogators within the Mossad.
They played with little conversation. The night ahead would be long and unpleasant.
Throughout the day, Marco had struggled with the question of whether to return to Via Fondazza. The FBI boys could still be there,
ready for another ugly confrontation. He felt sure they would not be stiff-armed so easily. They wouldn't simply call it quits and catch a plane. They had superiors back home who demanded results.
Though far from certain, he had a strong hunch that Luigi was behind the theft of his Silvio bag. The fire had not really been a fire; it was more of a diversion, a reason for the lights to go off and a cover for someone to grab the bag.
He didn't trust Luigi because he trusted no one.
They had his cute little smartphone. Neal's codes were in there somewhere. Could they be broken? Could the trail lead to his son? Marco had not the slightest idea how those things worked, what was possible, what was impossible.
The urge to leave Bologna was overwhelming. Where to go and how to get there were questions he had not sorted out. He was rambling now, and he felt vulnerable, almost helpless. Every face glancing at him was someone else who knew his real name. At a crowded bus stop he cut the line and climbed on, not sure where he was going. The bus was packed with weary commuters, shoulder to shoulder as they bounced along. Through the windows he watched the foot traffic under the marvelous crowded porticoes of the city center.
At the last second he jumped off, then walked three blocks along Via San Vitale until he saw another bus. He rode in circles for almost an hour, then finally stepped off near the train station. He drifted with another crowd, then darted across Via dell' Indipendenza to the bus station. Inside he found the departures, saw that one was leaving in ten minutes for Piacenza, an hour and a half away with five stops in between. He bought a ticket for thirty euros and hid in the restroom until the last minute. The bus was almost full. The seats were wide with high headrests, and as the bus moved slowly through heavy traffic, Marco almost nodded off. Then he caught himself. Sleeping was not permissible.
This was it-the escape he'd been contemplating since the first day in Bologna. He'd become convinced that to survive he would be forced to disappear, to leave Luigi behind and make it on his own. He had often wondered exactly how and when the flight would begin. What would trigger it? A face? A threat? Would he take a bus or train, cab or plane? Where would he go? Where would he hide? Would his rudimentary Italian get him through it? How much money would he have at the time?
This was it. It was happening. There was no turning back now.
The first stop was the small village of Bazzano, fifteen kilometers west of Bologna. Marco got off the bus and did not get back on. Again, he hid in the restroom of the station until the bus was gone, then crossed the street to a bar where he ordered a beer and asked the bartender about the nearest hotel.
Over his second beer he asked about the train station, and learned that Bazzano did not have one. Only buses, said the bartender.
Albergo Cantino was near the center of the village, five or six blocks away. It was dark when he arrived at the front desk, with no bags, something that did not go unnoticed by the signora who handled things.
"I'd like a room," he said in Italian.
"For how many nights?"
"The rate is fifty-five euros."
"Your passport, please."
"Sorry, but I lost it."
Her plucked and painted eyebrows arched in great suspicion, then she began shaking her head. "Sorry."
Marco laid two hundred-euro bills on the counter in front of her. The bribe was obvious-just take the cash, no paperwork, and give me a key.
More shaking, more frowning.
"You must have a passport," she said. Then she folded her arms across her chest, jerked her chin upward, braced for the next exchange. There was no way she was going to lose.
Outside, Marco walked the streets of the strange town. He found a bar and ordered coffee; no more alcohol, he had to keep his wits.
"Where can I find a taxi?" he asked the bartender.
"At the bus station."
By 9:00 p.m. Luigi was walking the floors of his apartment, waiting for Marco to return next door. He called Francesca and she re ported that they had studied that afternoon; in fact they'd had a delightful lesson. Great, he thought.
His disappearance was part of the plan, but Whitaker and Langley thought it would take a few more days. Had they lost him already? That quickly? There were now five agents very close by-Luigi, Zellman, Krater, and two others sent from Milano.
Luigi had always questioned the plan. In a city the size of Bologna it was impossible to maintain physical surveillance of a person twenty-four hours a day. Luigi had argued almost violently that the only way for the plan to work was to stash Backman away in a small village where his movements were limited, his options few, and his visitors much more visible. That had been the original plan, but the details had been abruptly changed in Washington.
At 9:12, a buzzer quietly went off in the kitchen. He hurried to the monitors in the kitchen. Marco was home. His front door was opening. Luigi stared at the digital image from the hidden camera in the ceiling of the living room next door.
Two strangers-not Marco. Two men in their thirties, dressed like regular guys. They closed the door quickly, quietly, professionally, then began looking around. One carried a small black bag of some sort.
They were good, very good. To pick the lock of the safe house they had to be very good.
Luigi smiled with excitement. With a little luck, his cameras were about to record Marco getting nabbed. Maybe they would kill him right there in the living room, captured on film. Perhaps the plan would work after all.
He flipped the audio switches and increased the volume. Language was crucial here. Where were they from? What was their tongue? There were no sounds, though, as they moved about silently. They whispered once or twice, but he could barely hear it.
The taxi made an abrupt stop on Via Gramsci, near the bus and train stations. From the backseat, Marco handed over enough cash, then ducked between two parked cars and was soon lost in the darkness. His escape from Bologna had been very brief indeed, but then it wasn't exactly over. He zigzagged out of habit, looping back, watching his own trail.
On Via Minzoni he moved quickly under the porticoes and stopped at her apartment building. He didn't have the luxury of second thoughts, of hesitating or guessing. He rang twice, desperately hoping that Francesca, and not Signora Altonelli, would answer.
"Who is it?" came that lovely voice.
"Francesca, it's me, Marco. I need some help."
A very slight pause, then, "Yes, of course."
She met him at her door on the second floor and invited him in. Much to his dismay, Signora Altonelli was still there, standing in the kitchen door with a hand towel, watching his entrance very closely.
"Are you all right?" Francesca asked in Italian.
"English, please," he said, looking and smiling at her mother.
"Yes, of course."
"I need a place to stay tonight. I can't get a room because I have no passport. I can't even bribe my way into a small hotel."
"That's the law in Europe, you know."
"Yes, I'm learning."
She waved at the sofa, then turned to her mother and asked her to make some coffee. They sat down. He noticed she was barefoot and moving about without the cane, though she still needed it. She wore tight jeans and a baggy sweater and looked as cute as a coed.
"Why don't you tell me what's going on?" she said.
"It's a complicated story and I can't tell you most of it. Let's just say that I don't feel very safe right now, that I really need to leave Bologna, as soon as possible."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm not sure. Somewhere out of Italy, out of Europe, to a place where I'll hide again."
"How long will you hide?"
"A long time. I'm not sure."
She stared at him coldly, without blinking. He stared back because even when cold, the eyes were beautiful. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Well, I'm certainly not Marco Lazzeri."
"What are you running from?"
"My past, and it's rapidly catching up with me. I'm not a criminal, Francesca. I was once a lawyer. I got in some trouble. I served my time. I've been fully pardoned. I'm not a bad guy."
"Why is someone after you?"
"It was a business deal six years ago. Some very nasty people are not happy with how the deal was finished. They blame me. They would like to find me."
"To kill you?"
"Yes. That's what they'd like to do."
"This is very confusing. Why did you come here? Why did Luigi help you? Why did he hire me and Ermanno? I don't understand."
"And I can't answer those questions. Two months ago I was in prison, and I thought I would be there for another fourteen years. Suddenly, I'm free. I was given a new identity, brought here, hidden first in Treviso, now Bologna. I think they want to kill me here."
"Here! In Bologna!"
He nodded and looked toward the kitchen as Signora Altonelli appeared with a tray of coffee, and also a pear torta that had not yet been sliced. As she placed it delicately on a small plate for Marco, he realized that he had not eaten since lunch.
Lunch with Luigi. Lunch with the fake fire and the stolen smart - phone. He thought of Neal again and worried about his safety.
"It's delicious," he said to her mother in Italian. Francesca was not eating. She watched every move he made, every bite, every sip of coffee. When her mother went back to the kitchen, she said, "Who does Luigi work for?"
"I'm not sure. Probably the CIA. You know the CIA?"
"Yes. I read spy novels. The CIA put you here?"
"I think the CIA got me out of prison, out of the country, and here to Bologna where they've hidden me in a safe house while they try and figure out what to do with me."
"Will they kill you?"
She placed her cup on the table and fiddled with her hair for a while. "Would you like some water?" she asked as she got to her feet.
"I need to move a little," she said as she carefully placed weight on her left foot. She walked slowly into the kitchen, where things were quiet for a moment before an argument broke out. She and her mother were disagreeing rather heatedly, but they were forced to do so in loud, tense whispers.
It dragged on for a few minutes, died down, then flared up as neither side seemed ready to yield. Finally, Francesca came limping back with a small bottle of San Pellegrino and took her place on the sofa.
"What was that all about?" he asked.
"I told her you wanted to sleep here tonight. She misunderstood."
"Come on. I'll sleep in the closet. I don't care."
"She's very old-fashioned."
"Is she staying here tonight?"
"She is now."